Showing posts with label COVID19. Show all posts
Showing posts with label COVID19. Show all posts

Monday, March 23, 2020

"We are still here," struggling Montgomery County businesses say, as others fall to coronavirus

Historic Bethesda diner cordoned off
Something you don't usually see in downtown Bethesda is the Tastee Diner closed. But the usually 24-hour restaurant is shuttered. This is emblematic of the new abnormal of business in the age of coronavirus in Montgomery County, as businesses countywide react to frequent new restrictions placed on activities and operations, and make decisions about how, and if, to keep the lights on.

Lights out at the Hilton Garden Inn
in Bethesda


The Bethesda Hilton Garden Inn has closed, with the hotel industry being hit hard by the low demand for travel. General Manager Roberto Perez says the hotel doesn't anticipate reopening before May 1 at the earliest. Bethesda-based Marriott International is laying off a large percentage of its employees until the crisis pauses or ends.
Ordinarily, this curbside on Waverly Street is
a hectic scene of airport cabs, Ubers and luggage


GameStop in Wheaton is also closing - apparently for good, as the video game emporium's furniture and fixtures are all up for grabs in the store's closing sale. All products are 50-80% off. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is not reduced to a liquidation price, however. GameStop has been the subject of controversy in recent days, as the already-struggling chain argued that its employees were "essential," and therefore their stores should be allowed to continue operating. 
Right now, the Wheaton GameStop - located at 11147 Veirs Mill Road - is operating on a schedule of 12:00-8:00 PM. Only 8 customers may be in the store at one time, and they have temporarily suspended trade-ins to avoid coronavirus contamination. There's only one week left to shop here, according to a sign in the store window.


Businesses still toughing it out amid empty streets and parking spaces are trying to let people know they are still open. "We're Still Here!" declares a sign popping up in some Montgomery County restaurant windows, including this one at Guapo's.

EagleBank at 7815 Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda closed Friday, but will reopen today, March 23. The Blue House is still open nearby. They are offering curbside pickup, Virtual Shopper service, and free delivery if you live within 5 miles of their store at 7770 Woodmont Avenue. Capital Beer & Wine is still open every day at 7903 Norfolk Avenue in Bethesda. They have online ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery.
Random Harvest is temporarily closed at 7766 Woodmont Avenue, but the good news is that you'll still be able to shop with them later this week. The Bethesda furniture store says they will operate by appointment or telephone sales after March 24. Check their website after that date for full details.

Also closed, like many around the county, is Starbucks on Norfolk Avenue in Bethesda. Starbucks customers can't give up their favorite drinks, though, and are lining up for long waits at Starbucks locations with drive-thrus in places like Gaithersburg, Kensington and Burtonsville. Drive-thru is the way to go!
Look for these signs in urban
areas of Montgomery County
to avoid paying for parking when
picking up your carryout orders
Curbside pickup is also the way to go at this time. Look for special curbside stopping areas where you can avoid having to feed a meter during the coronavirus crisis in downtown Bethesda, Silver Spring, Bethesda Row, Pike & Rose and Rockville Town Square. Buffalo Wild Wings at Rockville Town Square is currently offering curbside service from 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM. World of Beer has all 250 beers on their list available for carry-out.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

First Montgomery County coronavirus death reported; Best Buy closes all stores, offers curbside pickup

Still "time to make the
donuts" at your neighborhood
Montgomery County
Dunkin' Donuts store

Montgomery County has led the state of Maryland in coronavirus cases. Late Saturday night, the first death from coronavirus in Montgomery County sadly was confirmed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. According to the Maryland Department of Health, the deceased patient was a woman in her 40s, who had underlying medical conditions that complicated her battle against the covid-19 virus.

Also yesterday, Best Buy announced that it would be closing all of its stores, effective immediately. Their stores will continue to sell products, but sales will be via curbside pickup at your nearest store.

Your local Dunkin' Donuts stores in Montgomery County are still open for carry-out and drive-thru sales. You can also use their app (scan the QR code in the image above to get the app) for touchless ordering.

Hot Pot Legend at 595 Hungerford Drive also announced yesterday that it was closing temporarily. They had been offering curbside pickup and delivery, but said they were ceasing all operations to protect their employees and families. Hot Pot Legend plans to reopen once the crisis has passed.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Starbucks goes to delivery/drive-thru only; region on verge of coronavirus shelter-in-place lockdown

Montgomery County
coronavirus testing site
in the works

Starbucks announced Friday that it was moving sales at virtually all of its American stores to delivery orders and drive-thru service only. Deliveries are available through UberEats, the company said. Starbucks said locations in and near hospitals may be kept open to serve frontline health workers and first responders during the coronavirus crisis.


Leaks and statements from the District and Maryland suggest the region is nearing some form of a shelter-in-place order. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said his state is just one step away from declaring such an order. At least two journalists tweeted out yesterday that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser would order District residents to remain in their homes yesterday. Bowser's office quickly clarified such reports were false, but leaks from the DC government claim that the plans have been drawn up for implementation on short notice as needed.

National Guard units have been photographed on the move in many states across the country over the last week. A significant number of military vehicles were seen in the D.C. area Friday. As rumors began to spread online, the Maryland National Guard released a statement assuring citizens "there is not a threat of martial law." The Guard stated that the vehicles were headed to FedEx field, where troops are setting up a coronavirus testing site.

Military jets and helicopters were heard flying over Montgomery County early this morning, however.


Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said at a press conference yesterday that the County hopes to establish a coronavirus testing site soon. MedStar would be the healthcare partner to staff and operate the site, he said. Elrich proposed using the site of the former White Flint Mall, of which only one store remains standing, for the testing location.


Restaurants at Pike & Rose are, like dining establishments countywide, rushing to adapt to the new abnormal of take-out/delivery only. Remember that they can also sell you beer and wine to-go under temporary alcohol sales rules.

City Perch in the iPic Theaters remains open for curbside pickup and delivery, even though the theater itself was forced to close under the sweeping statewide closures ordered by Hogan this week.

Here is a list of what other Pike & Rose restaurants are offering at this time:

  • Kusshi Sushi is offering a:
    • 50% discount to all medical and hospital workers
    • $10 meal credit for students under 18
    • 50% discount on wine
    • 25% discount on beer and sake
    • Must call to place order. Open until midnight!
  • Julii is available on UberEats or call direct (301) 517-9090 for no fee delivery or curbside pick-up. They have also created a mini grocery with essential items currently hard to find in grocery stores: toilet paper, fruits, meats, vegetables, pastries, pasta, and sanitizer. Half price bottles of wine also available.
  • Summer House Santa Monica created a similar mini take out market with such necessities.
  • Stella Barra has “make your own” BBQ pizza-to-go kit for families to make family dinners at home
  • Sweetgreen and &pizza are offering free meals to hospital workers

Friday, March 20, 2020

Montgomery County declared economic disaster area, coronavirus scenes across MoCo (Video)

Image: U.S. Small Business Administration

Restaurants retool to survive coronavirus;

Rural Maryland largely unscathed
by COVID-19 virus

Montgomery County's moribund economy already was the worst-performing in the region over the last decade, according to federal statistics. Yesterday, that same federal government officially declared the county an "economic disaster area" in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, making it eligible for federal Small Business Administration disaster relief funds.

Montgomery County Congressman Jamie Raskin
announces the county has been declared an
economic disaster area on Twitter
I hate to say, "I told you so," once again, but...yep. I've been warning since 2010 that our economy was moribund, and our fiscal course unsustainable. And posing the question of what would happen if we were hit by another recession while in this precarious financial state.

Our elected officials have ignored my warnings. It's instructive to go back to a notorious incident at the Council in 2016 at this moment. A top professional Council staffer declared at a worksession on the Westbard sector plan that an expensive, pie-in-the-sky solution to school overcrowding from urban-style development being permitted in that area was supremely doable. The math presented moved all financial burden, aside from standard impact taxes, from the developer to taxpayers. The math also presumed no financial downturns between FY-2017 and FY-2034 - no recessions, no depressions, no asteroid crashdowns, and no...pandemics.

The Council didn't question the math, and approved the plan.

And here we are. Does anyone outside of 100 Maryland Avenue actually believe we could afford a nearly-$6 billion FY-2021 budget in coronavirus-ravaged Montgomery County this year?

County revenues have been steadily declining. But a recession would sound pretty good compared to what we are facing in the next fiscal year: something between depression, and total economic collapse. 

You think falling revenues are bad - how about virtually no revenue? That's where we are for the indefinite future. We still haven't attracted a single major corporate headquarters in over 20 years, and if the County's debt was a department, it would be the third-largest department in the County government.

As I've said so many times, we're in real trouble, folks. Do the math. Because the Council apparently can't.


Brickside Food & Drink at 4866 Cordell Avenue is one of many restaurants retooling practically overnight to survive the tidal wave of coronavirus that threatens to put many eateries out of business. In addition to converting to a carry-out operation, as all operating restaurants must at this point, Brickside has gone a step further, offering even more reasonable prices for brunch (Community Brunch Menu available Saturday and Sunday) and carry-out orders, in recognition that many are feeling the financial pinch of missing paychecks at the moment. Take a look at the menus here, and give them and the other restaurants remaining open across the county whatever support you can.


Montgomery County is temporarily allowing restaurants to sell take-out beer and wine along with take-out food, in acknowledgement of the financial distress businesses are under at the moment. The beer and wine must be consumed off-premises. It will be hard for elected officials to explain why this could not continue after the coronavirus crisis ends. If it's safe now, it'll be safe then.


Save 25% off usual menu prices when you order take-out from Olazzo Bethesda, Olazzo Silver Spring, and Alatri Brothers (Bethesda) pizzeria. Prices are also temporarily 30% off at Gringos & Mariachis in Bethesda and Potomac.

Here are their current hours; call ahead to double check in the coming days (as you know, things change by the hour in this coronavirus situation):

Gringos & Mariachis Potomac 4:30pm-8:30pm
Gringos & Mariachis Bethesda 4:30pm- 8:30pm
Olazzo Bethesda noon- 8:30pm
Olazzo Silver Spring 5pm-8:30pm
Alatri Bros 4:30pm- 8pm

Here's a video of scenes of the coronavirus' impact across Montgomery County. Shuttered businesses. Mysterious men in hazmat suits. Empty streets.

All scheduled Montgomery County Council
meetings through March 23 have been canceled
according to the Council calendar
The Montgomery County Council announced earlier this month that the public could not enter its building, attend its meetings or testify at public hearings due to coronavirus. But they did not publicly announce that they were going on hiatus. As the photos of their schedule here prove, that's what they are on right now, with all meetings and hearings between March 12 and 23 canceled or postponed. 

The only Council member seen in public in recent days was Will Jawando, but only on a Facebook livestream. Gov. Larry Hogan has effectively been running the Montgomery County government and public schools in absentia of their elected and professional leadership for the last couple of weeks.


Predicting when Marylanders will be ordered to stay in their homes has been an online parlor game since the first Montgomery County coronavirus cases were announced. California went into total lockdown yesterday, and the City of Los Angeles went even further. City residents are now ordered to remain in their homes under penalty of "fines or imprisonment," according to the Los Angeles Times. There are specific exceptions, such as trips to the grocery or drug store, scheduled medical appointments, family caregivers, or exercising outdoors in your neighborhood, while maintaining a distance of 6' from others. All Los Angeles-based businesses requiring employees to be present in-person must close, and no public gatherings are permitted, the Times reported.


A Republican party official told a GOP convention crowd in a red Maryland county in 2007 that they would "sleep well tonight." Why? "Pure Republican air," the official said to laughter. Is there anything to it?

Seriously, though, it's another data point that should be analyzed in the spread of coronavirus. No county on Maryland's Eastern Shore except for Talbot has a single case of covid-19 confirmed so far. None of the counties in Western Maryland have it either. Carroll and Frederick counties have 2 and 1 cases, respectively. Meanwhile, Montgomery County has 33, Prince George's has 23, Howard has 16, and Baltimore County has 12. 

It would seem that clustering millions of people into megacities is actually not the healthiest lifestyle for our future. We could look to our rural neighbors to learn more of the benefits of less-dense development and housing, cleaner air, open spaces, green space and trees. Mother Earth appears to be sending us a message.

At a minimum, the geographic clustering of the cases would tend to discount the idea that coronavirus was raging here back in December. Not to mention the lack of deaths. Even if they were misdiagnosed as cases of flu or pneumonia, the number of deaths would have been high enough to register public alarm. Had coronavirus been circulating prior to Christmas, we would likely have seen it spread to these rural counties as family members traveled back and forth for the holidays. That didn't happen.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Hogan orders all enclosed malls closed, haz-mat suited men spotted in Bethesda, 1st coronavirus death in Maryland

107 confirmed cases in Maryland,
including first child to be infected;
GAP, H&M close;
Hogan's handling of COVID-19
pandemic getting nationwide 

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has announced the first coronavirus death in the state, a Prince George's County resident who had pre-existing medical conditions that made him more vulnerable to the covid-19 virus, he added. He said there are now 107 confirmed cases of coronavirus statewide, including the first child to have contracted the virus.

Meanwhile, GAP and H&M closed all of their stores in Montgomery County and across the country. Earlier this morning, I broke the story that Montgomery Mall and Wheaton Plaza have mostly closed, except for a few "essential" tenants providing needed services or products like groceries. Now, Hogan has ordered all enclosed malls in the state to close at 5 PM tonight. Sassanova was the latest retailer to close at Bethesda Row, but said they can deliver or offer curbside pickup, in addition to their online storefront.

Hogan also announced that no one except essential workers or frontline healthcare personnel should be riding transit in the state. He has also amended the gatherings restriction to be limited to events of ten people or less. And by executive order, Hogan said no one but ticketed passengers may enter the terminal at BWI Airport, unless they are assisting a disabled passenger.
Gap closed all stores nationwide
H&M has done the same

Haz-mat suited men spotted in Bethesda

Last night, men wearing haz-mat suits were seen inside the new offices of Fidelity Investments in the Chevy Chase Trust building in downtown Bethesda. Given the current anxiety of the public, this certainly turned heads of pedestrians walking past.

Jaleo Bethesda launches community kitchen

Jaleo Bethesda opened a community kitchen outside of the restaurant at the corner of Woodmont Avenue and Elm Street. Meals will be provided to anyone who needs them between noon and 5:00 PM. If you can afford to pay for your meal, they have two contactless payment options. If you cannot afford to pay, you don't have to, on the honor system. God bless them.

Now not showing

Movie theaters across the county have gone dark following the state's order to close this week. Here's a look at marquees in Rockville and Bethesda.

TV, America take note of 
Hogan's leadership on coronavirus

Speaking of Larry Hogan, the governor's handling of the coronavirus is earning him bipartisan praise locally and nationally. He and fellow Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine - along with Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo -  have been out in front at each critical juncture as the pandemic has unfolded, taking bold steps to shutter schools and businesses. All three have boosted their nationwide profile ahead of the 2024 presidential race. In contrast, when the coronavirus crisis was imminent in February, the Montgomery County Council was the only such body in the region on a two-week vacation. Today, Hogan is the darling of cable news, appearing on every major program in recent days, each day seeming to bring another major announcement from the governor.

Hogan found the Montgomery County Council asleep at the switch once again when the virus hit, and stepped in to close Montgomery County Public Schools, as county officials hemmed and hawed over making such a decision for political and ideological reasons. The Council has been totally sidelined by Hogan. Rarely meeting, and taking no significant actions to address the crisis, the $140,000-salaried County Council has left the pandemic response to County Executive Marc Elrich and Health Officer Travis Sayles.

The Council's big action on its coronavirus agenda? To pass a proclamation calling for some of the same moves that have already been made days earlier by Hogan and President Trump.

In fact, our "full-time" Council has so little to do, that one member has found time to moonlight as a children's show host. Councilmember Will Jawando announced Wednesday that he would be broadcasting a story time for kids on Facebook each Wednesday. That's all very nice, and it's great he has the free time, but then the situation quickly turned unethical.
Taxpayer-funded MoCo government social
media accounts caught promoting County Councilmember
Taxpayer-funded Monrgomery County Government social media accounts began promoting Jawando's new kids show, and by extension, politician Jawando himself. That's not allowed under ethics rules, but certainly not the first time such political promotion with taxpayer dollars has taken place. The County's inspector general should indeed review this matter.

Montgomery Mall temporarily closes "majority of our shopping center operations" due to coronavirus

Westfield announced it has temporarily closed the "majority of our shopping center operations" at both Montgomery Mall in Bethesda and Wheaton Plaza "to further contribute to the fight against this pandemic," the mall operator said in a statement. This was among the latest, and largest-scale, retail closures due to the spread of the coronavirus in Montgomery County. "Essential retailers" may remain independently open at both malls, Westfield said, but did not provide a list of open businesses at either property.
However, the websites for both malls appear to indicate on the "Stores" list which businesses are open, and which are closed. For example, the dry cleaners at Montgomery Mall is listed as open, as is Dick's Sporting Goods at Wheaton Plaza. Other businesses say, "Closed," where the hours should be. But Westfield recommends you call ahead to confirm if the specific business you wish to patronize is actually open, and what their hours are, as this is subject to change at any time as the covid-19 crisis continues to rapidly develop.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Coronavirus hospital tents erected across Montgomery County but "don't be alarmed," health officer says

Hogan delays primary to June 2
as more businesses shutter

While the public is told that there are still only 24 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Montgomery County, coronavirus tent hospitals were suddenly erected Tuesday at hospitals across the county. County Health Officier Travis Gayles tried to get ahead of public concerns on this development, saying "don't be alarmed." He said the tents are simply triage centers so that potential coronavirus patients do not have to enter the hospitals' emergency departments, where they might infect others.

A shortage of test kits remains here and nationwide, and Gayles stressed that these tents were not offering testing services to the public. The tent hospitals were erected yesterday at Holy Cross Hospital's Forest Glen and Germantown campuses, Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Adventist White Oak Medical Center, Adventist Shady Grove Medical Center in Rockville, and MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Olney. It's interesting that none of the hospitals mentioned the new tents on their social media feeds yesterday.

Two notable aspects on the latest coronavirus numbers across the state: Montgomery County has by far the highest number of confirmed cases, many times that of any other county; the reason(s) for that other than population size would be worth investigating. Second, for a disease that appears designed to hit the senior population hard, the majority of current cases in Maryland are between the ages of 18 and 64. No cases have been confirmed among residents under the age of 18.

On Tuesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan postponed the state's primary election to June 2, 2020. It's unclear how it will be any safer or healthier for the public to go out to vote that soon, and many are speculating that Maryland could be forced to institute a vote by mail election. In fact, the special election to fill Elijah Cummings' Congressional seat will now be conducted by mail, so stay tuned for election developments that effect us here in Montgomery County.

More businesses are closing due to the pandemic. Paul Bakery and bluemercury in Bethesda, and all Macy's stores in Montgomery County, were among the latest on a sober St. Patrick's Day. Macy's announced it would reopen at the end of the month (again, highly unlikely, as with schools and businesses - all indications are that we will be in a much worse, not better, situation by then).

Target is reducing hours at all Montgomery County locations and nationwide. The big box store, Whole Foods Market, and Safeway were among those promising to institute times of the day during which only seniors and people with certain health issues may enter the store beginning this week.

The "senior hours" idea had been promoted heavily online in recent days by social media influencers, but it's unclear how effective it would be in preventing the spread of coronavirus, since those same people could carry it into the store anyway. Seniors are in the second-largest age group among current coronavirus cases. In practice, it may simply force the rest of the public to cram into more crowded aisles during increasingly fewer store hours, creating more stress and more spread of the disease. Not to mention shutting out folks from the small restocked amounts of hard-to-get supplies that people are hoarding like toilet paper and disinfecting wipes.

Sometimes people need to think before enacting a knee-jerk policy just because it sounds woke. Here's an idea: Retailers and suppliers actually restocking supplies, and operating on regular hours, instead of trying to add to the panic and hoarding. Imagine people not punching each other over a pack of Charmin because, after the initial supply shock, trucks would start rolling and it would be restocked in sufficient supply. Perhaps the paper companies have found a novel way to make money without selling their products. Heckuva job, Brownie!

Photo courtesy Montgomery County Government

Monday, March 16, 2020

Maryland orders bars, restaurants, movie theaters, gyms to close to prevent coronavirus spread

Warning the coronavirus pandemic will be "much harder [and] take much longer" than the public may realize, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced he is taking "drastic actions right now," that will be "terribly disruptive, but absolutely necessary." Hogan ordered all Maryland bars, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms to close indefinitely by 5:00 PM today. He said curbside pickup and drive-thru food sales could continue as normal.

Hogan also banned the holding of events of more than 50 people. Two-hundred and fifty Maryland State Troopers are being deployed to enforce these orders, as well as address any other law enforcement matters during the pandemic, he said, stressing that the closures and bans will be vigorously enforced.

All grocery stores, pharmacies and banks are remain open, Hogan said. The governor said he has ordered an immediate assessment of which currently-closed hospital facilities across the state can be reopened. Hogan suggested such actions could potentially add up to 6000 additional hospital beds, which are currently too few to meet the demand of the worst-case scenario with covid-19.

Hogan also activated the Maryland Medical Reserve Corps this morning. In addition, he said any physician with an active out-of-state medical license, or an expired Maryland license, will be allowed to practice medicine during the coronavirus crisis.

A thousand Maryland National Guard troops have been deployed this morning for the pandemic, and Hogan said another 1200 are on immediate standby. The governor enacted an executive order preventing any utility, including cable companies, from cutting off service to any customer statewide. Hogan also barred landlords from evicting tenants until further notice.

The state has applied for federal relief regarding meals for needy students. Hogan said the Trump administration has made it possible for Maryland to now provide three meals a day, and a snack to every child who needs them statewide.

Montgomery County coronavirus briefing deemed "a hot mess," MoCo admits true case count unknown

Some retail property owners
prepare for takeout-only dining as
nationwide COVID-19 lockdown looms

If Montgomery County Government's Facebook Live skills are indicative of its overall coronavirus response, we may be in real trouble, some citizens who tried to watch a Sunday online briefing concluded. "What a hot mess," one viewer commented during the glitch-ridden livestream. "This does not bode well for the count[y's] ability to respond to this pandemic," she added.

"No one can get important info," another viewer commented. "MoCo you need to fix this." One viewer noted there was no sign language interpreter visible in the livestream. "Video and sound keep going in and out...why can't we watch?" asked another.

Later the County acknowledged the technical issues. The press conference would be provided as a recording later, officials promised. Resident interest in more information from officials was piqued by several dramatic coronavirus-related announcements by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and ThinkFoodGroup's decision to be the first major restaurant company to shutter its businesses to encourage people to stay home as coronavirus cases continue to multiply.
New curbside pickup parking
spaces at Bethesda Row
In related news, an official County coronavirus update email sent to residents acknowledged that the "official" number of coronavirus cases - which is relatively low but multiplying each day - can't be considered accurate. We have the same lack of testing here as has been the case nationwide. Criteria limiting who may be tested remains in place, primarily because there still aren't enough test kits for the number of patients asking to be tested. County officials said Montgomery County police have had to be summoned several times when patients grew disorderly after being denied a coronavirus test.
At the federal level, new domestic travel recommendations or restrictions and potential lockdowns may be announced as early as today. There have been discussions regarding restricting or discouraging interstate travel and use of air travel within the United States. Many have called for a nationwide "social distancing" lockdown that would close all businesses except for grocery stores, pharmacies and banks, as was instituted by Italy. President Trump is said to be reviewing all options in the context of the current coronavirus case numbers.
Bethesda Row property owner Federal Realty was one of the first to take concrete steps if federal or state authorities were to mandate restaurants operate only as takeout businesses or drive-thrus. In the last few days, new "curbside pickup" parking spaces were added. They have a 10-minute time limit for restaurant employees to bring out whatever packaging is still legal this week in ban-happy Montgomery County.